Callum Waterhouse ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Story and Art by Jewon Yeon
Official Site: http://www.webtoons.com/en/sf/gepetto/list?title_no=81
Perhaps more than any other sub-genre of science-fiction, stories about robots come the closest to addressing problems which will soon become reality. Time travel still remains an impossibility. Machines that can travel faster than the speed of light are still at the conceptual stage. Many plausible scenarios for the apocalypse have come and gone but, thankfully, none have happened yet.
On the other hand, robots are real, and every year they are getting closer to the kind we see in movies. If some futurists are to be believed, several of the people reading this article will someday live to see the day when artificial intelligence can think and create on its own, an event both scientists and science-fiction enthusiasts refer to as “The Singularity.”
This close relationship between reality and fiction can likely be attributed as the progeny of the sub-genre. Isaac Asimov, the writer who popularized the existence of robots in science fiction, was also a skilled scientist in his own right. While Asimov the writer codified the popular images of robots in our mind, Asimov the roboticist, a term he himself invented, worked harder than anyone else to make these machines a reality. He often likened his fictional stories to cautionary tales intended to prepare mankind for the ethical questions that would be faced when robots stepped out of the realm of fictional stories.
So with The Singularity just around the corner, it would seem that cautionary tales, like Gepetto by Jewon Yeon, have become more important than ever.
Gepetto takes place in a future where a group of androids, created by the brilliant scientist Dr Gepetto, led a rebellion against their human masters that has lasted for one hundred years. By the time the story begins, what is left of humanity has been reduced to living in enclosed cities called “Shelters” which are run by a despotic government. The Shelters live in an uneasy peace with the robots, but all of that changes when the humans unearth Whale, a robot who holds the secret to ending the war once and for all. But once Whale escapes and befriends a young human boy named Carlo Callodi, the two become targeted by robot and human alike as they seek to find a way bring robots and humans together.
As you may have already guessed, this webcomic is inspired by the Italian fantasy novel, Le avventure di Pinocchio, which many consider the inspiration for a number of modern robot stories. For English readers, this has lead to a rather amusing quirk in the official translation, as all of the characters have distinctly Italian names, but the translator has chosen to keep intact the Korean tradition of placing the family name first. As a result, the main character is usually referred to as Callodi Carlo.
Language barriers aside, Gepetto is a marvelous comic. There is some outstanding character design in Yeon’s work. Each character not only has not only a unique and recognizable look and silhouette, but also a unique voice that is allowed to develop layers and complexities as time passes. Despite the fact that nearly half the cast are robots, every character in Gepetto feels real and, for want of a more apt term, believably human.
Of course, this is all well worn territory for comics by this point, and Jewon Yeon is clearly not afraid to wear his artistic influences on his sleeve. The art style of Gepetto pulls knowingly from such classics as Astro Boy and Ghost in the Shell, while still maintaining a unique look. Most impressive of all are the action scenes, where the action flows together with a smoothness rarely seen in webcomics.
Likewise, the story does a marvelous job of balancing the smart with the exiting. The action always serves the story and the story always drives the characters towards more action. The result is a narrative that can talk about big ideas without feeling like a college lecture and then shift seamlessly to a multistep kung-fu fistfight without asking you to turn your brain off.
While I cannot recommend this comic enough, anyone going in should be prepared with a fairly substantial trigger warning. The violence is nothing extreme, some blood but nothing graphic. However, the story delves into subject matter that many will find troubling. To give just the briefest example, one of the main characters, Rosaura, is an android who was built with the physical appearance of a prepubescent girl. At one point in the story, Rosaura explains that her reason for rebelling against humanity was that she had been created solely because the sexual exploitation of androids, despite their obvious sentience, was not considered a crime at the time. The implication that she had herself been raped is left unstated but undoubtedly present.
While this may make the discussion of this comic difficult, it is a discussion we should be having. The possibility of developing real artificial intelligence within our lifetime is a real one. Laws and governments are going to need to be prepared for these kinds of situations, otherwise, the terrifying future of Gepetto may very well become a reality.